It’s hard to show, so let’s tell you!
In the third blog episode in our series covering the roles at WorkTango, we interviewed Senior Product Designer Arnel Ilano who joined the team late in 2020. He covers what initially sparked his interest in WorkTango, what he likes, dislikes about the role, and what differentiates WorkTango from previous employers, in his mind.
Keep reading to see how he would describe his experience so far.
What sparked your interest and make you apply for the position?
Unlike most, Arnel did not apply to the position. He had a bit of an unusual route getting into WorkTango. Interestingly, Arnel was in the midst of a job hunt at an enterprise organization when – due to internal policy changes – the position was no longer available and he was left hanging in his current role. As a result, he wanted to move away from the corporate world to have increased independence in his decisions and room to innovate.
It was during the same time that he had an active profile on a job recruitment site through which one of our team members reached out to him. Given the state of his current position and lack of opportunities for growth, Arnel interviewed for the position and was blown away by his first impression.
“Sitting down for the interview felt very different, Irfan was open, authentic, honest, and importantly – respectful of my time. Other organizations would take multiple weeks if not months to get back to me while WorkTango took less than a day. I really appreciated that.”
Arnel also wanted more purpose in his role as a product designer. He wanted to do something to make the world a better place and at the same time, not get caught up in the procedures at larger organizations.
Subsequent interviews and discussions with the team, combined with learning about WorkTango’s virtues solidified to Arnel that this change would be positive. He decided to leave his current organization to pursue the dynamic, purpose-driven culture at WorkTango. He hasn’t looked back since.
What does a typical week look like?
Similar to the development team, the product team typically works in 2-week sprints. At the beginning of each week, the team plans out their top priorities and has subsequent daily checks-ins to make certain no roadblocks exist and to align on deliverables.
“It’s a fast-paced and dynamic environment that changes so quickly. There is a lot of concept exploration (a way to interpret a feature requirement) in the beginning with sketches and wireframes. Then, through conversations and research, we nail it down to a single concept that we believe will allow the user to complete their task in the best way. We need to make sure we are on the same page to focus and allocate resources accordingly.”
Throughout a typical week, Arnel will gather the requirements of a feature at hand, brainstorm possibilities for how to execute said feature, and nail down a few design options. Finally, working in tandem with Product, Development, and any other key stakeholders, test its feasibility, functionality, usability, and viability.
In subsequent weeks, once a chosen concept has been identified, Arnel partners with Product to conduct internal and external user interviews to collect feedback, and iterates the concept to meet the needs of its users. Once a design has been thoroughly tested with users and meets the internal requirements, Arnel then pairs with the Product and Development teams to move it from discovery to delivery.
“Designing is not just about the way it looks; it’s about how it functions.”
What do you like most about your job and why?
Being a product designer, you have to have a sharp eye for what looks good and especially for what doesn’t. Arnel likes putting himself in the shoes of the user to truly see if the overall design works as intended or not, and why. This role plays to his strengths; namely, his background in design and the psychology behind it. How does the design communicate the functionality and help the user achieve their goals and if not, how can we serve our users better?
Arnel also enjoys conducting user interviews, both internally with the team and externally with clients. This appeals more to his business and communication side, while the rest of his responsibilities let him explore the technical requirements of the user experience through designing and collaborating with the Development team to build new features.
“You have to read between the lines of what people are saying without leading them on. It’s challenging to decipher exactly what they mean but I enjoy the fact that my role influences so many areas of the product.”
What are some of the difficulties?
Some difficulties Arnel has faced in his position relate to the difficulty in communication and juggling the changing priorities of the team.
“It’s such a dynamic job and you need to be able to juggle multiple priorities at the same time. You could have the whole week planned out and then a user has an issue and you have to quickly shift priorities.”
Being in a communication–heavy role where your work is, at times guided by the feedback you receive from users, it makes difficult to do your job when the feedback isn’t clear. Arnel has the most success being able to talk to users in person, so although the remote environment is fine for now, he would prefer to have some in-person conversations to dig a little deeper into the feedback. Nuances can get lost in communication and given the role; this presents challenges when the information collected needs to drive tangible product improvements.
What characteristics make a good Product Designer?
A few of the key characteristics Arnel outlined that make a top-notch Product Designer are; project management, communication, and empathy.
The first comes as no surprise. Managing all the moving pieces of a project while staying focused on the core functionality is fundamental when working through any design project. Managing customer expectations and deadlines while trying to put out the best product for the greatest number of users is no easy feat, it’s easy to spend weeks working on something to get it perfect, but in the meantime, the user is stuck with the problem. The product team’s goal is to ensure they deliver something to our customers proficiently, so project management is as important to a designer as a hammer is to a carpenter. If you don’t have it, it’s tough to do your job.
“Everyone has an opinion, so you need to be able to push back if necessary to stay focused on the core functionality.”
Following project management, communication is another important tool in the designer’s tool belt. Interviewing users, cross-department collaboration, and interpreting feedback to drive design functionality all stem from strong communication skills. If a strong fundamental base in communication is a carpenter’s screwdriver, then empathy is the screw. Empathy is an important skill because it’s the result of the work done through communication. In this case, empathy refers to putting yourself in the shoes of the user and taking their use-case or point of view heavily into consideration when building features.
An example of this could be: If a user makes keeps making errors on a certain screen and says “I think you should make that feature more pronounced because I keep missing it” then the team would investigate the core issue of the complaint and might decide to dedicate an entire page to the new feature to allow for more space and to better showcase its functionality.
Being empathetic to your users is what differentiates good features from great ones.
How does this job differ from your previous ones?
Coming from the corporate space, Arnel found a big difference in working as a product designer at WorkTango compared to previous organizations.
“I’ve worked at a large corporation, an agency, and at a start-up and WorkTango is different from them all. Actions speak lower than words, they are respectful and truly live their virtues… even during the interview! I didn’t find that authenticity anywhere else.”
Arnel has experienced bad power dynamics and company politics in the past, where he felt management was hindering his performance. At WorkTango, Arnel states, “they say what they are going to do, are apt to take feedback and then actually follow through on what was promised.” Arnel is challenged in his role while at the same time included in important decision-making. He has the freedom to explore concepts, while simultaneously exploring and learning in a way that makes sense to him. All while not getting caught up in company politics or red tape.
WorkTango has given Arnel the flexibility and freedom he needs to excel.
What was an unexpected but pleasant surprise you found while working here?
Arnel was pleasantly surprised to find out how well each department collaborated together. Specifically, the development and product teams.
Prior to joining WorkTango, Arnel found that development teams and product departments often clashed while trying to implement new features. Product wants new features to look and function a certain way, while the development team is considering what is feasible given the timeline and how it will function with the rest of the code. At WorkTango, Arnel points out, “we are always on the same page”. Through scheduled meetings and ad-hoc check-ins to review each department’s road map, and as a result of both teams sharing the same goals and using each others point of view to guide work, the team work’s together rather than in isolation.
Collaboration is key when building a robust, user-friendly platform and Arnel has found a perfect balance at WorkTango.
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